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Ring of Fire
Good intentions are seen along the way, as 37 songs that Cash either composed or performed are framed to reveal the lives, times, and places he knew. We follow a trail of distinctly unrelated musical vignettes that ultimately lead us nowhere, except eventually to the street outside.
Slightly reminiscent of the recent flop musical Lennon, in which the title character was conceptualized through numerous performers, the different stages of Cash's life are inferred by three generations of men. They're possibly but not necessarily from the same family, but most likely from the same place -- the heartland of America.
The 20-something Jarrod Emick, the 40-something Jeb Brown and the 60-something Jason Edwards make no attempt to personify Cash but rather project the home-spun motivations, the struggles and the conflicts that helped to define his life -- most notably, his empowering inclination toward religiosity. Emick is every inch the charismatic cowboy as he struts and poses with youthful vigor. And Brown and Edwards resonate gingerly with the prerequisite nod to their characters' state of maturity.
No matter how familiar, song book collections have a way of backfiring if they appear isolated emotionally from the whole and are by their nature and design simplistic in their themes. None of the songs build dramatically on what we are seeing, nor are they intended to do so. Many of them do afford the performers a reasonably supportive showcase. Of course, women are part of these men's lives, mostly as spouses. Twenty-something Beth Malone and forty-something Lari White are strident for the sake of impact which leaves sixty-something Cass Morgan to reflect the charm of the golden years.
The eight-member on-stage band provides the most bracing moments in the show, as they not only provide terrific instrumental backup but also become part of the singing and dancing ensemble. Although the banjo, mandolin, keyboard, accordion, cornet, Dobro and evoharp are part of the instrumental mix, it is the guitar that dominates. In one of this revue's more rousing numbers, "I've Been Everywhere," the eight musicians and six principals line up across the stage, each strumming an acoustic guitar. The choreography, most of it variations on line-dancing, is credited to Lisa Shriver.
It can't be said that the song selections don't fit a variety of moods. Edwards is full of remorse singing "Hurt." "There You Go," finds Malone dismayed by Emick's fickle heart. "While I've Got It on My Mind" inspires hanky panky from Brown and White. The flood waters prompt "Five Feet High and Rising" by the principals. Après le deluge, a good crop appears and a reason to sing "Look at Them Beans." A medley at the Grand Ole Opry provides some amusement when Morgan, dressed in a silly frock, bellows "Flushed" (from the bathroom of your heart).
We get the message that prison and life on a chain gang is hell but not without its comical ironies with "Delia's Gone," "Austin Prison," "Orleans Parish Prison," and "Folsom Prison Blues." The faith-based songs like "Angel Band," "Waiting on the Far Side Banks of Jordan" and "Why Me" will undoubtedly please those so inclined.
Show-stoppers and standout numbers may be in short-supply, but not the number of times that you may wonder what is the point of all this wandering about in Cash-land.
The show is indebted to Michael Clark's various projections, often quite beautiful, the scenic design by Neil Patel and well lighted by Ken Billington. These transport us to farms and farmhouses, pastoral vistas, bars, on-the-highways and by-ways, Folsom Prison, and the Grand Ole Opry. In the end, we are indebted to Brown who sings "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down," all about getting up feeling bad with a hangover. Unlike anything else in the show, it's perfectly understandable.
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